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Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Woman exercising in a pool.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease, but it doesn't have to keep you from being active. It is an autoimmune disease and your immune system attacks the lining of your joints. You can help control RA with exercise and a healthy lifestyle. Be sure to see your healthcare provider for scheduled checkups and lab work. At some point, you may be referred to a rheumatologist (a healthcare provider who specializes in arthritis and related diseases).

Make exercise part of your life

Gentle exercise can help lessen your pain. Keep the following in mind:

  • Choose exercises that improve joint motion and make your muscles stronger. Your healthcare provider or a physical therapist may suggest a few.

  • Most people should exercise for at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week. This can be broken up into shorter periods throughout the day.

  • Try walking, riding a bike, or doing exercises in a warm pool. Look for programs in your community for people with arthritis. 

  • Don’t push yourself too hard at first. Slowly build up over time.

  • Make sure you warm up for 5 to 10 minutes each time you exercise. Stretching and flexibility exercises are often helpful. 

  • If pain and stiffness increase, don't exercise as hard or as long.

Watch your weight

If you weigh more than you should, your weight-bearing joints are under extra pressure. This makes your symptoms worse. To reduce pain and stiffness, try shedding a few of those extra pounds. The tips below may help:

  • Start a weight-loss program with the help of your healthcare provider.

  • Ask your friends and family for support.

  • Join a weight-loss group.

Learn ways to cope

Most people with long-term conditions find it a challenge to deal with the emotions that often go along with their conditions. With rheumatoid arthritis, there is also pain. 

  • Work with your healthcare provider on ways to lessen pain. Medicines, use of heat and cold, and other methods are available.

  • Learn to relax. Although it may not be easy, it does help lessen stress, anxiety, and pain. Simple deep-breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga are examples of relaxation techniques.

  • Depression is common with long-term conditions. If you feel depressed, make sure you talk with your healthcare provider. Again, treatments, like medicine and counseling, are available.

Try to make your day easier

There are things you can do every day to protect your joints:

  • Learn to balance rest with activity. Even on days when you have few symptoms, rest is still important.

  • Ask friends and family members for help. Help with simple things can make a big difference for you. For example, you might ask someone to change a light bulb, or take out your weekly garbage.

  • Use assistive devices, which are special tools that reduce strain and protect joints. For example:

    • Long-handled reachers or grabbers for reaching high and low

    • Jar-openers, two-handled cups, and button threader—all of these devices help to protect your fingers, hands, and wrists

    • Large grips for pencils, pens, kitchen and garden tools

The Arthritis Foundation has many additional suggestions about protecting your joints. Go to their website at

Use mobility and other aids

People with arthritis and other problems affecting the joints often use mobility aids, to help with walking. For example, they may use canes or walkers. They may also use splints or braces to support joints. Talk with your healthcare provider or therapist about these aids. For instance, you might benefit from:

  • Use a cane to ease knee or hip pain and help prevent falls

  • Splints for your wrists or other joints

  • A brace to support a weak knee joint

Online Medical Reviewer: Hanrahan, John, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Horowitz, Diane, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Image reviewed by StayWell art team.
Last Review Date: 2/14/2016
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